Picture of student demonstration at SMC on May Day 2012

In 2010 the situation regarding lack of classes at what were once called ‘community colleges’, but are now named junior colleges, became dire.  Lack of classes, “class crashing” (not enough seats and over-enrollment) plagued the college along with a lack of needed class offerings.  Many students at community colleges found they needed to go to the for-profit subprime colleges like Corinthian, EDMC, Kaplan or the other predatory “outfits” that pose as educational institutions when in fact they are capital extraction syndicates plagued with problems and corruption.  The cost, for example, of a radiology degree at a community college can be as low as $4,000 while at Kaplan it can run $25,000 or more.

Years of starving public education with the malicious intent of destroying the public commons in tandem with many other ‘cost cutting measures’ have left the 112 community colleges hovering on the precipice of bankruptcy and experiencing an inability to service students.  The situation is much more dire now since 2010 and promises to become explosive in the fall when the school tries to wedge hundreds of students into small classes or fails to offer the classes needed.  Students are now organizing a State Wide Student Union to confront the loss of educational rights.

As I chronicled at Daily Censored, Santa Monica College has been the subject of both illegal public hearings that look to twist the college into a for-profit two-tiered money machine, and pepper spraying of students in resistance to all of this including a four year old girl (http://www.dailycensored.com/2012/06/05/autocracy-fear-lack-of-transparency-non-disclosure-and-financial-ruin-wasc-and-as-monica-community-college/).

The administration of the college, specifically the president, has shown little empathy for students preferring a dictatorial style over problem solving and hierarchical control.  He is wholly committed to privatizing elements of the college for his paymasters, the Trustees and the coin-operated politicians, who fund the college through their ‘votes’ and pay his salary.

Students are organizing at SMC and will do so in the fall when the semester begins; many classes are still not available and the crony administrative authoritarianism gets even worse.  Administrators and Trustees will be back again with new plans with new names to privatize SMC for this is what they have been tasked to do.  They are committed to austerity and shifting the costs of education and fiscal robbery by the one percent on to the backs of students while they maintain their six figure salaries, bonuses, perks and jobs.

Student asks permission to shoot scenes for a movie at SMC in 2010

In 2010 a now former student who graduated with honors and a 4.0 grade average and who was at the time the recipient of a JFK educational award of $30,000 for future higher education studies wished to chronicle the situation with fiscal problems and students’ denial of access to classes and “class crashing” at SMC where he continued to attend.  Responsibly, he wrote a letter to the higher administration of the college asking for permission to shoot for the film project.

What follows is his letter to the administration (names have been excluded) requesting permission and the response of the administration denying his request.  What follows the response is an e-mail the student sent to me this week for further explanation.

Two years after this student’s request, all hell broke loose at the school with campus police and Santa Monica police going on a wilding, pepper spraying students (even a four year old child) and wielding batons on the patrons who pay their salaries.  Just what does SMC have to hide and why does it react so violently to student questions?  It is obvious they have something to hide and their lack of interest in student projects to advance their learning can be no better seen than in the following administration response.  They should be ashamed or better yet, removed.

Danny Weil

July 28, 2012

To: Administration

Re: Student journalistic/documentary film proposal…seeking 15
minutes of your time

Date: June 07, 2010 2:55 PM

Dear Senior Administrators at SMC-

Quick intro: My name is Student X and I am a continuing student at
SMC. I am currently maintaining a 4.0 while working toward two AA
degrees in Film Studies and Social & Behavioral Sciences with a transfer major in Communications, and with the ultimate goal of going to Law School.

I would like to ask for 15 minutes of an SMC senior administrator’s time
in order to make a proposal to ask for your okay of a film project. The
project is non-profit, and I am not seeking funds for it through SMC.
Also, only students will be involved.  Mainly, I will need permission to
shoot some non-disruptive sequences of the expected “class crashing”
situation on the first day of classes this coming fall 2010, on Monday,
August 30, 2010. This date is crucial to the project because only the
first day of classes will demonstrate the dramatic shift in availability
for enrollment to students since recent budget cuts.

The goal of the project is to put a face on the budget cuts for state
govt. officials, students and taxpayers. I believe that the medium of
film showing twice as many students trying to crash courses as are
actually enrolled while many classrooms sit empty will resonate with
taxpayers, candidates for Governor, and the legislature. I believe that
what is missing from the debates about budget cuts is that the quality
of education at SMC always provides a return on the state’s investment.
The questions the film will inspire viewers to ask themselves are, “What
will these students do with their time if they can’t enroll in school
after making the difficult commitment to attend college?”, and “What
value is provided to the state while classrooms sit empty, and these
young people have no jobs to go to?”

It is my fear that without exposing the face of these cuts (the students
themselves), campaign promises will be made to make more crude cuts
across the board in the upcoming election. This film made of students by
students could pre-empt negative campaign promises against spending on community colleges.

My education at Santa Monica College has been one of best things that have happened to my life and I believe I can make a difference with this
project. All I seek is your permission to let me commit my talents and
skills to help make that difference.

Please allow me 15 minutes of your time to demonstrate my ideas.

Sincere and warmest regards,

Student

The following followed from the highest levels of the administration of the college in response to this student’s request.  What is shocking is not simply the autocratic control of information, lack of disclosure, lack of transparency but what is even more horrific is the fact that the film project was not even acknowledged as an educational project by what we are told when we fund SMC, is an educational institution.  This is because the school is under pressure to privatize and their entire mission now, from the administration down to the lowly paper pushers, is to assure the radical transformation of one ‘junior college.  SMC is no longer referred to as a community college, this is simply to ‘collectivist’ for the administrative staff.  In fact, SMC is now paying over $100,000 for a corporate logo which will replace and whitewash any trace of community, this while classes close and administrative salaries rise.

Notice how this high level stooge has told the student that although exposure and information is good, it is the administration of the college that wishes to control the flow of information from the top down, not allow students who perhaps paid to attend the college, to tell their narrative from the bottom up.  Sound like the teaching of American history or decisions made in everyday life by our rulers?  You bet it does: control the flow of information to the public and then reseat history in terms of authority.

The fact is that SMC, like most community colleges, is broke.  They cannot open classes for students, cannot service the needs of students, cannot offer the many classes students need to transfer and the rest.  This is due to massive defunding over thirty four years since proposition 13, but frankly fighting for the public commons has not been high on the list of the overly paid administrators that deny learning opportunities to students under the auspices they must control information to the public.  Nor have the soft-bellied unions stood up for students; they too fail to educate their constituencies.  They too are clueless due to the fact that their own union leadership is also overpaid and works in collusion with privatization plans and college administrators for a ‘seat at the corporate table’.

It is disgusting and heart wrenching but it is America and it is American higher education.  The good news is that the student has gotten more of an education through the administration’s actions than he/she would have otherwise.  We hope you do!

 

From: Administration of Santa Monica College

To: Student

Date: June 10, 2010 5:18:38 PM

Re: Student journalistic/documentary film proposal…seeking 15
minutes of your time

Mr. ‘X’-

I am very glad to hear that your experience at Santa Monica College has
been so positive and congratulate you on your academic success. While I
commend your proposed effort to “make a difference” for SMC and other community colleges, this project would actually be inconsistent with SMC’s plan for fall 2010 and the message we are trying to communicate.
Our planning efforts have focused on maintaining our course offering to
the extent possible, and, as a result, fall 2010 will not be
significantly smaller than fall 2009. Of course, this does not mean
that there will not be enrollment pressure resulting in “class crashing”
simply because we are experiencing unprecedented enrollment demand,
fueled in part by the course reductions at other community colleges and
in the university systems. However, this will not be the result of our
making significant cuts in the offering, so we don’t want to send out
the wrong message. While the type of illustration you describe can
indeed be powerful, too often it can backfire and be attributed to
faulty planning of the particular institution “in the news” rather than
to the underfunding of education by the State. We obviously do not want
that for SMC.

Thanks again for your kind words about SMC and your support of community colleges.

Sincerely,

Top administrator

SMC

 

This is the reply that was sent to me regarding the issues at Santa Monica College by the anonymous student in question.  Not even a note wishing the student “good luck” in their studies, nothing.

From: anonymous student

Date: July 27, 2012

I am the first recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship from SMC. It pays up to $30,000 of my unmet need, every year, until I graduate from Brown University. I also graduated with two degrees in 5 semesters at SMC with Highest Honors.

http://www.jkcf.org

The Board of Trustees honored me with an award noting this. It was uncomfortable for me to think that I was contributing to their reputation when I felt that it was the professors, they were laying off, who deserved all the credit. Coming from me, criticism would look ungrateful.

The film proposal:

I can say that faculty and even administration underlings were very accommodating to listening to my film proposal. But then suddenly, they wouldn’t talk to me anymore. I heard from a vice-president, in casual conversation afterwards, that the president of the college brought it up himself at their weekly admin meeting and said that no one was to discuss the matter with me and that he and his VP, Lawson, were dealing with it and that no one was to accommodate me. This is all hearsay, but heard first-hand from different administrators to the best of my recollection.

Furthermore, I heard that SMC police were instructed to shut down any production-style film shoots and were made aware that students might attempt to do so on the first few days of classes.

I was dismayed at my own naiveté. I had only asked permission and brought it to their attention because I was concerned that SMC professors might feel uncomfortable accommodating a film crew in their classes, filming them and other students. I thought that if I carried a signed note from the president, they would feel they were protecting their positions instead of putting their jobs at risk.

I was also dismayed that the A.S. Board of Directors viewed my idea like it was not something they could endorse because the administration was against it. Name withheld and the committee that interviewed me to be a Presidents’ Ambassador also rejected my application during that same week after they were made aware of my proposal.

I inferred from the above that the bad situation at SMC was bad because it was strategically designed to be bad.  Initially, I had thought, naively, it was only bad because taxpayers never understood the situation. The most disturbing budget cut, in my opinion, is that SMC policies have been orchestrated to accept the statistics of those who take up full-time course load enrollment units, classroom space, and who are statistically expected to not succeed and basically institutionalize their exclusion from a path like I had. They should be dealt with on a case by case basis - not preemptively.

One major problem and great expense in funds and reputation for the admin at SMC (and all public CC’s) are those failing students who harm SMC’s reputation by taking up class space, for which they get fee waivers, from other students who would have paid and would have succeeded e.g. international students who have higher stakes to succeed and pay way more. The problem is, these policies also prevent those who don’t understand that they have to fight and navigate a tough system to get courses…students who might have been excellent students, but for whose character it is to shrug when told, classes are full. And I think the majority of people in the low and low, middle-class accept this authority without protest. I know I did at first. It wasn’t until I got innovative about my own plan that I began to succeed. Perplexed, I asked myself, “How in the hell does anyone graduate from this place in 4 semesters?” -Not by waiting for people to direct me. I had to join the Scholars Program for priority enrollment - that was the only way I could get courses. I discovered this on my own.

The most disturbing part of the email to me, personally, was that name withhold of top administrator began his response by congratulating me on my success at SMC. In the context of the entire response, to start it that way, it felt like I was being warned to not put myself in a position to change my successful status at the school. Ambiguous, to be sure, but I knew that if I made any film on this, it would be something that would be perceived as a hostile act. My initial intent was about community service. However, the only film I could make now would have to be a totally different kind of film, and one that would be received differently by people —not in the way I had intended. In short, my film idea couldn’t be made. I would have to make a film that I didn’t think would be effective in the way I had intended. I was disappointed because the class crashing situation was outrageous. And it’s unfortunate that taxpayers couldn’t witness their gubernatorial candidates seeing it for themselves.

But I accepted the admin’s position. I dispute their philosophical approach to running a public community college, but their tactics are at least consistent with their philosophy.  I think the administration, too reductively, focuses on the public reputation of SMC and their own public reputation (outside the college) as an administration. I do not feel their strategy protects SMC as an institution of higher learning; actually, I think their strategy is detrimental to the public community college in many ways.

What I couldn’t accept was the A.S. Board of Directors’ lack of foresight. I answered this by actively managing a campaign, which successfully installed almost half of the new A.S. Board of Directors for the next school year - handpicked by myself and my candidate for President. Harrison was to be our Student Trustee, but he left the campaign and ran on his own. I only saw this as a good thing for voters, but continued to support my campaign.

The students had been sleeping for the last 5 years. I believe that a lot of the SMC administration’s strategy would have had to have been adjusted, significantly, if the A.S. Boards of the last 5 years had paid any attention at all. Instead, they worked arm in arm with the president, who had/has different interests from a different vantage point and is very good, politically.

Subsequently, the administration created a new wait-list system, which disallows students from attending courses in which they aren’t enrolled. So now, the chaos and frustrated faces are hidden from public view.

Sincerely,

Student X